The impact of nutrition on children’s brain function

While the association between nutrition and general health is now increasingly accepted in the medical community, also thanks to movements as Nutritank, it is only recently that the effects of nutrition on the brain have started to be investigated.

Among other mechanisms, one way poor diet impacts brain function is by inducing a low-grade chronic inflammation state. In the brain, the hippocampus is especially sensitive to inflammation; in fact, hippocampal dependent abilities (e.g. long term and spatial memory) are severely impacted by poor nutritional status.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI, see picture below) we are investigating how children’s diet and BMI relates to their abilities to orient, a hippocampal-dependent ability, and the way they use their brain to do so. We will also be researching whether relating these results to participants’ inflammation levelsto see if inflammation mediates the relationship between dietary quality, BMI and cognitive abilities.

The fMRI machine used for our experiment- Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands).

We expect that our results will support the importance of a healthy (Mediterranean-like) diet for optimal cognitive abilities and brain function in children. With obesity and poor dietary quality being on the rise, studies investigating the relationship between nutrition and cognition are extremely important to start informing new policy changes, such as in education and healthcare.
We hope that our results, together with previous literature, will encourage an increased attention to the pivotal role of diet in impacting children’s brain health. Medical professionals in general, and paediatricianspediatricians in particular, should receive formal training in order to be able to support parents to make informed nutritional choices for their kids, in order to promote a healthy development of their most important asset: , their brain.


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